Up All Night

There’s a old computer slogan—often found adorning t-shirts at computer conferences—that goes something like:

Macs for productivity Linux for development Windows for Solitaire

Humorous, to be sure, but I don’t know how accurate it is. Although I could quibble with the first two lines, my real beef is with the third: Whoever came up with the slogan, tongue in cheek or not, obviously never experienced Semicolon Software’s $25 Solitaire Till Dawn X 1.4 (   ). If they had, Windows would have been left with a big, fat zero , because Solitaire Till Dawn is the best solitaire game I’ve seen on any platform.

You may be thinking, “C’mon... Is there really a huge difference between the best and worst Solitaire apps out there?” I’m here to tell you there is. For starters, consider the fact that Solitaire Till Dawn offers 85—yes, 85 —different kinds of Solitaire. From Accordion to Yukon, and every variant of Klondike in between, you get more games—and more types of games—than you’ll know what to do with.

With so many games, how do you decide which one to play? The Game Chooser window shows a list of all games; selecting one from the list displays details about it: name, type of game (two-deck, “Thinker’s,” Easy to Win, etc.), other names for the game, and a short description. You’ll also see the family of games to which the game belongs, as well as other variants of the current game—great for finding similar games you might enjoy if you like the current one. If you don’t know how to play a particular game, click the Full Rules button and Help Viewer will launch, displaying the rules, helpful strategy tips, and even dealing instructions (useful if you ever want to get away from the computer and actually play with—*gasp*— real cards).

To make choosing a game easier, you can limit the list to a particular type of game; for example, if you’re looking for a quick coffee break, you can show Short Games. And once you find a game you particularly like, you can mark it as a favorite; favorite games are available for quick access via a pop-up menu in the main game window.


Solitaire Till Dawn Game Browser


Once you’ve picked a game to play, a few optional features are available to make games more efficient. For example, autoplay automatically plays available moves, and you can choose to have Solitaire Till Dawn alert you if a game is no longer winnable so you don’t sit there for 20 minutes trying to figure out if you’re overlooking an obvious move. You can even get a few helpful hints when you’re stuck: The Highlight option, when enabled, shows all playable cards, and at any time you can press a key to see all visible cards of a particular rank (1 through 0, j, q, or k) or suit (s, h, d, c).


Solitaire Till Dawn main window


And although purists may prefer to play card games without any help, let’s face it—for many of us, part of the allure of playing Solitaire on a computer can be reduced to a single word: Undo . Solitaire Till Dawn offers the frustrated Solitaire player unlimited Undos (and Redos ), as well as a number of other helpful cheats: At any point you can take a snapshot of your game; if you get stuck, you can revert to any snapshot and continue playing from that point. An X-Ray feature gives you a peek at hidden cards, and Another Redeal and Shuffle Deck options give you a last-ditch chance to win an otherwise dead game.

Finally, for the number-crunchers out there, Solitaire Till Dawn keeps track of your playing statistics: games played/won/lost, win streaks, total/shortest/longest times, number of moves, and more. You can even create different Solitaire Till Dawn users so your statistics aren’t affected by your significant other’s (or just so the statistics showing your mastery of Free Cell aren’t spoiled by your odd incompetence at Klondike).

My only beef with Solitaire Till Dawn is the rather bland graphics. Although you can customize the game background and the card designs, there’s nothing groundbreaking in the game’s aesthetic design. But then again, what do you expect? You’re playing Solitaire on a computer. And the gameplay will quickly make you forget about the OS 8-like backgrounds.

In fact, the only real problem with Solitaire Till Dawn is that although it proves the third line of the above joke wrong, it also causes problems for the first—once you start playing, your productivity is guaranteed to decline.

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